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Pearson & UCL launch AI research project

Pearson and UCL Institute of Education are collaborating on an AI research project. Photo: Soumil Kumar/Pexels

PTE Academic is accepted by the UK, Australian and New Zealand governments for all visa applications

The research will focus on test-takers’ experience of PTE Academic, Pearson’s English language test, and will explore how AI might be used to improve assessment methods.   

“If you take an English oral exam… you want a system that gives you the marks you deserve”

Commissioned by the PTE research team, the project will be led by UCL associate professors Mary Richardson and Sandra Leaton-Gray.

“If you take an English oral exam, for example, you want a system that gives you the marks you deserve, whether you learned English originating from America, Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, Malta or Hong Kong,” said Richardson. 

“All those different, slightly subtle local variations in vocabulary and sentence structure need to be built into the assessment model, so you get a fair mark.

“This is where artificial intelligence can really help us,” she added.

Rose Clesham, director of academic standards, measurement and research for PTE explained that AI provides the potential to “revolutionise” the way people take low and high stakes tests. 

“The thing that excites us is that the use of this technology can transform the way we can authenticate all the skills that we need for English language testing, and therefore potentially other areas as well,” she told The PIE. 

“The use of AI, particularly on a global level, means that we can both assess the skills that we want to test and we can also keep an extremely high level of reliability and accuracy. Now that is the golden ticket in terms of assessment.”

She explained that the collaboration will also try and raise the understanding of what AI means in the context of educational testing.  

“It clearly has this notion of a black box, but at the same time people use AI in their everyday life all the time and so it is really about delineating how we use AI in terms of educational testing compared to how AI is used in other industries,” she added.

PTE Academic is one of the fastest-growing products in Pearson and is a strategic growth priority for the company, posting 17% growth in test volumes last year. 

The test is accepted by the UK, Australian and New Zealand governments for all visa applications. 

Pearson has recently launched PTE Home, a two-skills language test accepted by the UK government for family, settlement or citizenship applications, which tests speaking and listening skills.

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